Hi, everyone. As a result of my studies of introduction to theology, these days I was wondering if I am really conscious of who God really is and not a god that I created in my mind. So, I was praying God for help. Then, my question is what forms of idolatry and / or incorrect worship do you see among Christians today for not knowing God correctly, that is, for not being clear about his attributes?
Hi, Fiorella! @fiorellavdiaz
This is such a great question! I am excited to read others’ responses to this post as well. I know I need to be reminded to continually go back to Scripture and find out what God says about Himself…because otherwise it is tempting to only go off of what I hear others say about Him. (That’d be similar to me trying to build a relationship with a person by only learning about them through other friends and not asking the person questions directly. So often that is what we do with God…even when we are well-meaning.)
I teach high school Bible/apologetics in the US, and over the past few years, I have seen some common themes come up as my students have described what they think God is like. Some of them think that God is there to just give them rules to follow and be a kill-joy. At the same time, they often think that the chief end of life is to be happy, and that God’s job is to provide them with happiness. Some think He’s involved in every part of their lives…others think that He is distant. A term that was used back in 2005 (15 years ago!?!?) was Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. I have definitely seen that.
More recently, as my students read the gospel accounts and tell me what characteristics of Jesus surprise them – it is frequently the fact that Jesus is truthful and direct. I had a student tell me, “Wow. Jesus isn’t always nice. But He is kind.” I loved that distinction! I think the temptation today is to think of Jesus as a nice man who would never stir the boat, never condemn people, and accept/agree with everyone regardless of whatever paths they were following. That is not the God we read of in the Bible. He is brutally honest, uncompromisingly holy, and yet unbelievably loving. And I think this “nice” aspect that people wish for has led many into compromise of truth.
I just finished reading Another Gospel by Alisa Childers. (https://www.alisachilders.com/anothergospel.html) It is an excellent book that really expresses what is happening in the US well with “progressive Christianity” and our mistaken view of God. I would highly recommend it.
Praying that your theological studies go well and that all of us continue to get a clearer picture of the beautiful face of our Savior!
This a good question to think about. I think we should always remember that we have this tendency of idol making. I remember C.S Lewis talking about how giving the bible and the Spirit a space to always correct this and break whatever mental idols we make (because it seems we are models and image making creatures so we should always be open to corrections or deepening these mental things).
One way to answer your question about common forms of idolatry/ incorrect worship is to propose extremes related to emotions, practicality and intellectuality.
Some people don’t really worship God but they approach him mainly for the emotions they feel or the peace they receive. (Not to say that a real relationship with God doesn’t produce emotions but it is idolatry to make it the main motive and thing we seek). On the other hand, others approach God for what he provides. Whether that is related to work, finances, security or even destiny. Here God is not approached for who He is but for what He gives. The third extreme is reducing God to a set of doctrines or beliefs. As I said about emotions, God does provide things and he is our father. There are also some right belief about him. But it will always be wrong to reduce him to only one of these or a mix of them.
this is a series of questions that have been a lot on my own mind for quite a while now, so thank you for raising it. I think Alexis points us in the right direction: go to the Scriptures directly. However, a lot of people do that and yet come up with very different images of God. This suggests to me that a good part of the problem lies in our hidden assumptions, our social and cultural conditioning, and our very attitude and purpose for searching the Scriptures.
- our social and cultural conditioning is a greater influence than we are usually willing to admit. We have to admit: we ALL have biases and preconceived ideas. If we don’t realise this or refuse to accept it, we will never look for them or try to deal with them. (Now we’re approaching Christmas and we can start right there with all the inaccuracies (yes - inaccuracies! - that our usual Christmas story incorporate, as well as the clutter of our Christmas culture - these set the scene for how we begin to see Jesus…inaccurately!)
- our way of learning also affects our reception of new information. Perhaps we are not so conscious of how my our “experiential knowledge” affects our acceptance (or otherwise) of new knowledge and experience. Into our teenage years we begin to assess all new information against what we believe and think we “know” already. If the new info matches our existing knowledge we are usually quite happy to accept it - even if it is misinformation or false. If it doesn’t match what we already believe, we tend to “not hear it,” dismiss it, or even oppose it, instead of assessing it humbly, considering it thoroughly, and seeing if it is so opposite to our existing ideas, or could be a different perspective. Of course this can also lead us astray.
- sometimes we simply don’t want to know the truth, because it makes us uncomfortable, exposes something unpleasant about ourself, or reminds of something we want to forget. So we reject it, repress it, find “rational excuses” to oppose it. And so on.
The scriptures give us LOTs of examples of these things, if we look carefully. But once we are seriously looking for the truth about God, and what He expects of us, there are a few starting points that have helped me a good deal. " You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13) .
Hebrews 1: 3 says
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
There’s one key: you want to know the attributes of God? then look at the moral character of Jesus. The second part of the above sentence also gives a clue to something more specific to examine: “he…provided purification for us.” So that seems to be a pointer to what is “extra special” in focussing our attention. Put another way, the best (most accurate) picture of God, that He Himself has given us is Jesus crucified. We get an echo from Paul who said (in 1 Cor. 2.2)
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified .
This from a man who probably knew most of the OT of his time by heart! Jesus told 2 followers on the day of his resurrection that he (Jesus) totally permeated the OT! The story of Jesus “passion” has shows us that he is against violence, and that in his love for his enemies he would rather be a victim of violence than use it against them. It also shows us his total willingness to identify with us - even when we are most hateful and violent against him; while simultaneously demonstrating that the “weakness” and “foolishness” of God are greater than the strength/power and wisdom of men).
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:27)
He had already told the disciples “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” (Hebrews 1:3 is an echo of Jesus’ own words.)
So what? Focus on the life and the crucifixion of Jesus as the representation of God’s moral character, then approach and assess all other scriptures through this lens, this truth.
1 Corinthians 13 is another place to look at the character of God, and to see his priorities. I personally think that this is the second best (after the cross) personal portrait of God in the scriptures. He ranks love higher than omniscience (which is not so much a moral as a metaphysical attribute), higher than power even power through faith, and good works. What we see is love that is self-sacrificial (not self seeking), positively oriented towards others (including so-called “enemies”), 100% faithful (in spite of our unfaithfulness), totally committed.
Enough on that. I’m sure you can take it further …
What I’ve thought about too, in contrast, is the incredible awfulness of sin. William Stringfellow writes that Christians don’t seem to grasp the magnitude of our personal, social, institutional and spiritual fallen-ness. (An Ethic for Christians and other Aliens in a Strange Land). Nor do we seem to understand that we are part of a truly cosmic spiritual battle. If we examine the lessons of the OT Israelite history, we will see a mirror of our church and national histories. But although these things were written for our “edification” we apparently ignore them and in doing so simply confirm and perpetuate the fallen state of our world. One of the persistent errors of OT Israel was their insistence on misrepresenting the character of God, “making Him to fit their culturally preferred image.” This is just another form of idolatry, which the Prophets also described as spiritual “adultery” forsaking the real God, for the one they thought fitted their ideas better. (It is also exactly what the serpent in Eden did in his approach to Eve and Adam!)
Enough already. Keep searching and studying, keep discussing. “Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8) And God bless!
Some good questions, Fiorella. I will leave the second part for others to respond to. Your first comment about wondering if you are really conscious of who God really is made me think of when Jesus was talking to his disciples and told them that no one comes to the Father except through him, Christ. He told them, "If you had known me, you would have known my Father also… " Phillip then asked him to show them the Father and it would be enough. Jesus responded to this with “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father…” (John 14:6-10). I realized that when I read the words of Jesus, I am hearing God speak. When I see what Jesus did, I am seeing God at work. It is possible for us as humans to project onto God things that are not true of Him, but I truly believe that if a person desires to know God, God will reveal more and more of Himself to that person. And if our desire is to know Him as He truly is, He will also reveal any wrong ideas we have about Him. It is a process of relationship.